Sunday, August 12, 2007

On Being a "Color Blind" Reader...

Hey, so if you popped in here because you're a fantasy reader who's been wondering if my novel Acacia: The War with the Mein is worth your hard-earned dollars I've got good news for you. It is. There are many posts here that talk about it and give good news and talk about fantasy stuff. This post, however, comes shaped by another aspect of my life on this planet. It's one of those race-related posts.

It came about responding to a comment that Larry from OF Blog of the Fallen made about reader responses to the interview I did with John Sclazi. I enjoyed reading most of the comments, and found some of them wonderfully encouraging and supportive. But, as with any thing race-related, there was a mixture of different opinions.

Larry's comment was, "After reading some of the comments at Scalzi's blog, I cannot help but notice how many readers unwittingly underscored your point about the acknowledgment of color/race by claiming that they were "color blind." I remember quite well taking a diversity class in a local university's social work program and being confronted with the fact that being "color blind" is quite a privileged position to be in the first place."

Yes. I hear you. On race issues people often "unwittingly" say things in denying racial concerns that actually prove how valid those concerns actually are. The "color blind" thing... Okay, before I say much let me make it clear that when I talk about this issue I'm not out to make any personal attacks. I'm just offering a perspective informed by a lifetime of inhabiting the skin I do. It's about asking folks to consider that they might not have all the answers - and that they might not have thought the entire thing through as much as they think.

My wife, for example, is Scottish. And I don't mean just that her surname is Scottish but she actually was born and raised in Des Moines... No, she's really Scottish, accent and all, red-haired, born in the Shetland Isles and raised in the Highlands and Islands. I met her in Edinburgh, and when I brought her across to America a year later she was new to all of our particularly American racial issues.

Now we've been together ten years. We've lived here and abroad and are raising two mixed race kids. Just yesterday she was commenting about all this by admitting that she had been and would likely have remained clueless about the myriad ways race impacts people of color's lives on a daily basis. She didn't know a thing before. With her open mind she'd likely have embraced the notion of being "color blind" - without realizing how misguided it is.

Fast forward ten years. Ten years of living with me, of discussing issues with me, of watching race affect my career, of reading about black history and reading black literature, ten years of pondering what our intermingled racial legacies mean for our children. AFTER all that, she admits, she understands things so much more now. Part of what that means is that she has no problem understanding the hand race plays in so, so many things. She knows just how racist the workings of the world are in ways that she had no inkling of before. She also admits that even now she has a ton to learn and knows that she'll never really understand the world as viewed from beneath dark skin.

Contrast that to the good people (most often white, I'd wager) that say they're "color blind" and that all this seeing racism in everything is just silliness. I think that most of them say that with the best of intentions, but every time I hear it I'm curious about a few things.

Small test... I'd be interested to ask each "color blind" reader when was the last time they read something by a black author. They might shrug and say, "I don't know. Remember, I don't pay attention to an author's race." My translation of that - they probably haven't read a black author since a college lit course, because if they had they'd KNOW they had. They'd remember it, and likely they'd have learned things from it.

Okay, second question... For white readers that shop at Borders - when was the last time you went browsing for a novel in the "African-American" literature section? They'd likely respond with, "The what? There's not an African-American literature section. Black history section, sure, but..." To which I respond that yes, yes there is a section of Borders - usually a small corner about a shelf and half wide - where the vast majority of fiction by black authors is shelved. It's where Alice Walker goes. It's where you'll most readily find Toni Morison. It's where I found Edward P Jones' The Known World for the first time. (After he won the Pulitzer and MacArthur "Genius" Grant and about every other literary award possible Borders might have saw fit to move him into the regular literature section. Might. But he began in AFAM.)

Honestly, this section of the store really exists, and all you have to do to get into it is to be black (not even American, just black at all).

I know all of this because that's where my first two novels (Gabriel's Story and Walk Through Darkness) go - when they're actually stocked at all. Yes, Pride of Carthage is in general fiction and Acacia is in fantasy, but my publisher had to push hard for the big chains to see the work instead of the color of its author. I know this. They told me this. And they said one of many reasons to get out of that tiny section was that it would immediately mean the stores would buy more copies, display them where people might see them - and therefore we’d sell more copies.

Does all of this sound like a racist conspiracy theory? Well, I can see how it would if it isn't part of your daily life. But it is part of my life and career to push through these boundaries and have my books placed within the general population. I know it. My publisher knows it. The bookstore executives and buyers and managers know it. The only folks that may not know that race is very much considered at all stages of publishing are a great many of the customers themselves.

So, to the "color blind" reader that has no idea they have NO CHANCE of coming across most black writers in the center of the store... I argue that the fact that you don't read with an awareness of color means that you're being a willing accomplice to institutional segregation. In that regard, being "color blind" also means being blind to a host of inequities, perspectives and realities that you would be able to see if you chose to acknowledge color and to see how much it affects all our lives. Doesn’t make being “color blind” seem so enlightened, does it?

So what's the remedy? Part of it, in this case, would be to put away that blindness and see the colors! When I come up with a reading list for a course I make sure it's racially diverse, and gender balanced, and I try to remember that we don't all have the same sexual preferences and that should be represented to. Do I have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to come up with good titles? Of course not. There's great literature written in all these perspectives and more. Don't be blind to them. Seek out diversity and you'll realize how rich it is, and how important it is.

By the way, my bookshelf isn't color blind. That's why I've included photos of it throughout this post. It's a rich tapestry of all sorts of writing from all sorts of places. It's literary and genre, white and black, European and African and Asian, straight and gay, old and new, etc, etc... I'm proud it, and I know it didn't get that way by accident, or chance. It's the result of many, many conscious decisions on my family's part. I think that's the only way we can know that we're doing the best we can to be racially sensitive and aware and informed. We have to act - and buy and read - consciously. And it's worth it. It really is.

So take the blinders off. You many find it's a very good thing.
(This is just my fiction collection, by the way. I've got the non-fiction in another room, respectfully granted the same sort of space and love.)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said. Thank you.

3:41 PM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

Fabulous post, thank you!

Interesting, isn't it, how these ghettos in the bookstores work. SF folk often complain about their books being relegated to a separate set of shelves whereas writers of, say, historical fiction, count as mainstream. Maybe that will help people understand your point.

4:05 PM  
Blogger John Dent said...

I think the main battle is over the bookstore's shelving categories, rather than over reader's choice of books.
Readers will focus on what looks entertaining, as long as they know it exists.
I get most of my books online, so I don't have to deal with the segregation.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Larry Nolen said...

I've been waiting the past couple of days for this! :D Thanks so much for posting this, as it does reflect quite a few sad truths about our society.

I have had to make a very conscious effort to find literary voices that didn't sound so similar to mine. I remember lamenting that I barely knew of any female or people of color writing speculative fiction. They just were not mentioned much, if at all. But between reading half of my books in Spanish and buying selectively online, I've been exposed to many other viewpoints than the ones I grew up hearing in the suburban mid-South.

I didn't take enough time to peek closely at your books you photographed, but have you read this anthology that Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan edited called So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy? Cannot recommend this collection enough.

And in my personal life, I have experienced some facets of this "unintentional racism". First happened when I was living/teaching in South Florida and my Haitian translator/friend and I went into Miami. We went to Calle Ocho (SW 8th St.) and decided to eat at a Pollo Tropical. Both of us were conversant in Spanish and had largely foregone using English when in Little Habana. Waitress takes one look at my friend and addresses him in Spanish, then glances at me and immediately switches to English. I felt awkward, not just because my friend had been treated differently, but also because I felt like I was like that kid on Sesame Street, doing his own thing, not like one of the others. It was unsettling.

And now, I have two young biracial cousins. To know that I'll hear "Oreo" or some other pejorative said to them just makes me all too aware that such bigotry is alive and well, both overtly in the case of the slurs and covertly in case of one person getting singled out in place of another. So it goes for books as well. While I can think of quite a few white authors, I have to struggle to remember the PoC authors I want to read - because it's as if they are as invisible as Ellison's narrator, just the corner, away from the spotlight.

Hopefully, some people will point the way to the "good stuff," sooner rather than later.

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But if you feel marginalized being shuffled into the black lit corner, isn't the answer to abolish that corner? I mean, you want out into the mainstream, no?

Seems like that's a color blind policy.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Tia Nevitt said...

Might I suggest that you are in good company?

I first heard of the Left Behind series in the early 90s, when I watched a Left Behind movie and read one of the Left Behind books. It was available in the Christian book stores and on the Christian shelves of mainstream book stores. A few years ago, my sister came to me raving about the series and talking about the then-upcoming movie. My response? "But the Left Behind movie has been out for years." Well, now that's the OTHER Left Behind movie that relatively few people know about. The Left Behind book series was out for YEARS before it got mainstream recognition.

A similar bias exists for Christian rock. Christian rockers are usually relegated to the Christian rock stations and sections of the music store. Unless the artists happen to play Christian country instead. Christian country music is played on Christian stations, and many mainstream Country artists put out Christian songs that are tremendously popular. However, if they get too popular, they may find themselves in a new Christian Country section of the music stores.

I agree with what John said. As long as media gets compartmentalized like this, artists and authors will have trouble breaking out of the various compartments.

5:02 PM  
Blogger clindsay said...

That is just an amazing post, David! Seriously, well done. :-)

5:14 PM  
Blogger James McLauchlan Johnston said...

Very interesting post.

In New Zealand there is currently a fairly big debate centering around the use of Maori language in public.

NZ's national radio is a superb mix of current affairs and culture, and they include entire pieces in Maori.

This has sparked much controversy. Just a few minutes ago a listener's email was read out: It basically said they were very upset to hear the use of Maori language on 'their' radio-waves. Now I quote: "They have their own TV and radio, why can't they just stick to that. My language is English, not Maori."

NZ is unlike a lot of other places in terms of the defence of indigenous culture and language.

I doubt there is any use of Aboriginal language in Australia's national radio. And my wife, who works in the ministry of education, says that meetings and debates all use Maori customs and greetings.

Despite the small negative voice, NZ is doing very very well in terms of a motivation towards integration.

What that means in real terms (social status, health etc) is another story.

5:35 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hey Everyone, thanks for all the responses! I think that's the most I've received so quickly before.

John, there's more than one battle here. Part of it is about shelving categories and how that alters reader's choice. Both things are intertwined. I do want to politely offer, though, that just because you buy books online doesn't mean you avoid segregation. No way, dude. Sorry. That's looking at things with far too rosy an outlook. I'm quite confident that websites are shaped and sculpted, links featured and shoppers directed online in ways to mirror what booksellers do in stores. Why wouldn't they?

Again, because I'm intimately involved with this I likely have a different perspective than you do. If you look on on the page for ACACIA all the links offered in the "People Who Bought this Book Also Bought" category are fantasy/sci-fi. All of them. And from day one they always have been. I don't buy that. Many people write to me saying they've read ACACIA and my other books. Or that they've read ACACIA and have just ordered PRIDE OF CARTHAGE, etc. All I'm saying is that I'm confident that at some point, on some day, one of those highlight titles should have be something other than fantasy. They NEVER have been.

The same is true about PRIDE OF CARTHAGE. All the linked titles are ancient war novels. Now, I'm not complaining about this. I'm just drawing your attention to the fact that Amazon has clearly built in categories that promote books they think of as likely sales - and that means they're marketing for profit, and by selling items the most like the one you're looking at. That's the opposite of being free from segregation.

Also, consider that the "Better Together" category is paid promotion space. Maybe not always, but much of the time. That's why there were times when some sketchy, nearly self-published conspiracy book will show up paired with the Da Vinci Code. It's not because someone thinks they really do go together. It's not because it happened randomly. It's not because anyone had actually bought that sketchy book. It's because somebody paid for that placement as a way to sell that book. And that happens all the time.

Thanks Larry. Yeah, you started this all. No, I haven't read that Nalo Hopkinson anthology. I'll keep it in mind. Honestly, the vast majority of the books on my shelf are still "literary" titles. Many of them I love; many others seem a bit thin to me now. I will say that more recent purchases represent my growing engagement with thoughtfully written genre works.

Assif, sure, I'm all for letting the books mingle. That would be great. I know that bookstores like Borders say that they put black books together because that's the way black readers want them, but I've never spoken to a black person that felt that way. If you're out there let me know. In general, though, that variation of color blind - having fiction shelved as fiction - is a wonderful ideal. We're far from achieving it, though.

Tia, I'm happy with the idea of being in good company. I think it's true. I don't think that Christian rock's marginalization is very similar to what I'm talking about, but I do recognize it as a variation on the theme.

Glad you like, La Gringa.

And Jamie, hi there. Man, I wish we could have made that New Zealand trip. I know very little about the current situation there, and I don't think I can really get a grasp of things from a distance.

But I'd dig hearing a news piece in Maori, even though I'd be clueless as to what it said.

6:22 PM  
Blogger John Dent said...

So are you saying that I should give a book a chance, simply by the colour of the author's skin?

If so, I disagree.

I will agree, however, with making a list of authors who have different backgrounds from oneself.
I believe we are separated more by class and nationality than by colour, so I tend to give authors from different social backgrounds and nationalities the top of the "list".
Maybe it's because I've never been a victim of racism, whereas I have had many run-ins with classism and xenophobia.

As to the shelving issue--I rely heavily on word of mouth for my book choices.
Although (perhaps I'm attempting to shrug my lame online-purchase excuse onto someone else) when I go into WHsmith, I do look at the whole stock of books, it's cathartic. (Yes, even the kids education section)
We don't have a "Black Authors" section, but we do have a "Welsh Poetry" section.

I guess I don't really understand?
I apologize if my skull is a little too thick.

As an aside, do you feel this segregation is only happening with literature?

7:00 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

John, sir, no I don't think you should give a book a chance just because of the color of the author's skin. I don't know how that's possible or quantifiable. I'm not even sure what that idea would mean...

I'd never think your skull was too thick. (You liked ACACIA didn't you? That's near genius!) I do think, however, that a lot of this is a madness that will be hard to entirely grasp from Wales. A lot of it is perversely American.

I lived five years of my adult life in the UK. I do know that things are different there. Not without issues, but - true enough - I am talking about some specifically American situations here.

As to your aside question... I'm sure variations of this segregation happen in many, many different forms. I'm a writer, though, so it's the writerly variation that I know the most about.

7:21 PM  
Blogger John Dent said...

I think it's important that people talk about these things, whether they're initially in a position to understand or not.
The UK is inheriting more and more American traits, and I'd hate for this to be one of them.

7:42 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...



Hey, I'm still invested in the UK, too. My wife would like to live no place in the world more than back in Edinburgh. I'd welcome that. We've just got some business to attend to over here first.


7:49 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hey David,

I worked at borders for a year so i have some knowledge(and gripes) of their book classifications. Our African-American fiction is rather large(around 2k books). However, it seems to have more similarities with the Erotica section than with the general fiction section. Ellison is lost between "Thong on fire" and "Thug Matrimony." Personally, i think this is the most troublesome problem. Many people are turned off by the books that are in the section. Just as someone will avoid the romance section if they are interested in sci/fi books people will pass up the african-american fiction section when they see face outs of erotic leaning books.

Stores, as you point out, definitely shelve books to attract other sales. Good and Bad. A very high percentage of customers come into a bookstore and have NO clue what book they want. The different sections also help the employees help customers find books that they could be interested in. Your average employee at my store was around 19 and not that well read. If there were no "African-American Studies" or "American-American fiction" then every customer asking for books by black authors(there were many)would be led to the fiction/history(whatever) section and more or less turned loose to find the needle in a haystack. Sure, Angelou, Hughes and Walker would be found cause they rock, but others would be lost to all but the most ardent scavengers.

So i don't think an african-american fiction section is necessarily good or bad...just how it is. We live in a diverse society with a majority and many minorities. How do we represent everyone? We could throw them all together, but then the majority would most likely drown out the rest. Or we go with what we have now: different shelves. It is laden with problems, but it is probably the best way to go about classifying books in our society. I think.


8:58 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Oh, one more more thing. The overarching problem(and i think this is your main point) is that people do not actively search for books by authors with different perspectives than theirs. Most people are happy in their comfort zone of Epic fantasy or legal thrillers to try the new and the different. Something i am all too familiar with. If we are 'color blind' then we can never experience the new or the different, and thats sad. So i do agree, recognizing color is important for us to grow as individuals and to better understand each other.


p.s. i'm done, i swear.

9:14 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hi Chris, Thanks for the thoughtful post and insider perspective. I hear you. Reminds me to remind folks that I didn't begin this as an attack on that shelving system. I began it bringing that issue up as a factor that not everyone may be aware of. I am critical of it, but I also know that it's not a cut and dry issue.

Clearly, there are books written by black authors for whom black readers are the target and majority audience. You know the names, I'm sure. So do I. Few white readers would. That's actually fine by me. I don't think much of that writing tries to - or does - speak beyond its target audience.

The difficulty - one of many - comes from the many black writers that don't cater their work to a specific segment of the black audience. I never did. GABRIEL'S STORY and WALK THROUGH DARKNESS both dealt with issues of African-American history, but they were literary novels aimed at a general readership that seeks out literary fiction. Part of that audience is black, absolutely. But not exclusively.

I could mention, also, that fully half the characters of both novels are white. And with WALK THROUGH DARKNESS it's the story of two men, one of whom is an immigrant from the Scottish Highlands. The novel is about his history, too. Because I'm black, however, that's all that factors into the categorization.

My first two novels have nothing in common with many of the titles in the African American lit section - as Chris details. When they were reviewed I was compared to Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner more often than Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. When I was shelved, though, race counted more that anything else.

Part of my complaint is a financial one, I'm happy to admit. The audience for literary fiction is small enough at the best of times, but getting shelved in a section that many readers of literary fiction don't even know exists is a significant problem. I've dealt with it by writing big books, books that have a certain amount of commercial umph to them, books for which it's easy to argue against segregating. I'm doing quite well with them, thank you, but that doesn't mean I'm over being concerned and advocating about this.

Chris, you make an absolutely great point that I missed altogether. A lot of folks working in the chain stores are kids. A lot of them don't know a whole lot about books. Your average sales associate just isn't going to know how to intimately lead readers to books, or know how to point you toward titles you might not have thought of, but might really like. (Insert here the lament for the independent bookseller...) So those categories are clumsy tools to help them do their job, while masking from customers how very much we've lost as independent stores have been squeezed out.

Again, I recognize the reality. That's what I'm asking Color Blind readers to join me in doing.

9:36 PM  
Blogger Jaltus said...

I think for those of us who are not minorities we can never really see or understand how it feels to be a minority. While I resonate with the person who commented on Christian artist being shoved aside (I am a Christian), the race issue permeates much more of daily life.

My freshman roommate in college (with whom I was good friends throughout high school) came from Puerto Rico. He dated the most popular girl in my church. He told me that when he brought her home from a date and was walking her to her door, the cops pulled up and asked if "this young man is bothering you."

I then was able to see first hand how he was treated differently in every day life. Certainly the college treated him better because of his ethnicity, but everywhere else it was quite the opposite.

I have seen enough to know I will never understand.

10:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm, some interesting points all 'round really.

I am a 29 year old white male from Australia who pretty much reads fantasy exclusively because I find it covers many other genres within it. Thinking about it at the moment I can think of a couple Asian authors I have read, but I suspect that 99% of novels I have read have been written by white authors.

I honestly have no idea if the author's race or background has any huge impact on the writing style, content or story because of just that. I suppose actively seeking out authors from other countries - and I can honestly say I suspect I have only ever read Aussie, NZ, Merkin & UK authors - could be a good idea. I know that there are many great Nordic and Spanish authors of fantasy out there.

Is it a problem or simply a forcibly naive choice? Do I subconciously seek out to only read fantasy written by a white man or woman with the possibility of a similar background? Is it purely from within or is it also caused by the choice of how books are shelved, sold and / or recommended?

Certainly some interesting things to think about raised here. Can I just say though, that based on your name I would have had absolutely no idea that you were black until this post or if I'd seen a promotional photo. And I have read some great reviews of Acacia and it is on my (always growing) list of novels to try.

Although I must say that interestingly, I actively seek out cinema from pretty much anywhere I can find it. I just attended a film festival and one of the most enjoyable films I have seen in a while is from Burkina Faso - I actively seek out diversity in that medium, why not in reading material as well?

Well, as I've never thought about this before, I'm glad I read your post and the ensuing discussion. Anything that increases our awareness of how the world works is fine by me.

10:41 PM  
Blogger Constance Brewer said...

I actively seek out poets/writers of other ethnicities, color, nationalities – probably because I was extremely fortunate to have a high school teacher who pushed me to read outside the box. Besides philosophy, the books I remember this teacher giving me that had a profound influence were Rumi, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, and Gabriel García Márquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude – in English and Spanish. I think because of these books I developed an avid interest in other cultures. I am not the norm. Many people are uncomfortable with literature outside their realm of experience. They don’t want a new experience; they want the same experience in a different wrapper. How do we convince them to take a chance? Is it a matter of being in the right place at the right time to influence a reader?

How do we 'grow' a racially sensitive reader? I think a lot of the ability lies in the hands of authors like you, David. Make recommendations. I want to know what's out there that I'm missing because my local bookstore shelves weirdly. Put a list on your blog sidebar of books you've read and recommend, books you think should be noticed by readers, books that expand our horizons and promote diversity. Word of mouth can be an effective tool - and less intimidating than wading through the NY Times to find out what's interesting. Challenge other authors to do the same.

I have my favorite black poets - Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, Lucille Clifton, Cornelius Eady, and Natasha Trethewey. Have I promoted them? Not enough. As writer, professor, and counselor I'm in a unique position. People listen to me. (Yeah, it's a strange thought for me, too) I'm willing to take my share of responsibility for 'diversity literature education'. Paying it back for my HS teacher, and paying it forward for my kids.

12:43 AM  
Blogger Constance Brewer said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:43 AM  
Blogger Paul S. Kemp said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:57 AM  
Blogger Paul S. Kemp said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:09 AM  
Blogger Paul S. Kemp said...

Isn't it so that any category of human beings that we might choose to focus on can be considered privileged/favored vis a vis another relevant category? Why should race be elevated above others?

For example, we might just as soon ask readers: When is the last time you read a book by an Orthodox Jew? Prior to Dawkin's recent work, when have you read a work by an avowed Atheist? A Pagan? A Native American? An economically underprivileged white woman who grew up in rural Appalachia? An Asian? An Albanian?

Do any of those categories have separate shelf space in Borders? Shouldn't they? One could easily make the argument that all of them are subject to institutional bias that prevents them from getting mainstream attention, yes? Doesn't the fact that "African American Authors" have separate shelf space in Borders suggest that African American Authors are privileged vis a vis those other categories of authors?

The problem with your position, I think, is that it takes a single category, among an infinite variety of categories, and elevates it to the point of greatest importance. But I don't see any basis for that elevation. Is race relevant? No doubt, though I suspect the degree to which it is relevant in any given context depends a great deal upon other factors. But in the end I think it's no more relevant to the notion of "privilege" than a host of other factors/categories into which we might group authors.


9:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, David, you've certainly got us all buzzing. I would like to say one more thing, and that is congratulations on a novel that will probably win awards. Your next novel is well ahead of any George R. R. Martin or Tad Williams novel on my reading list. Does that make me color blind? I don't know. However, I think very shortly your name is going to be frequently mentioned often along with those and other "demi-gods" of modern fantasy literature. I hope you enjoy the ride!

9:54 AM  
Blogger Larry Nolen said...


Umm...unless I didn't read David's comments right, I believe he was noting that he was spending time trying to break out of that little niche section of the bookstore and have his books in the general lit and SFF sections of the store, rather than "segregated" into a AA section away from the rest of the fiction books.

10:09 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Thanks for an excellent post. You've tackled an emotionally charged subject with both sincerity and tact, and that's no mean feat. I'll be passing this one along.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Paul S. Kemp said...


Quite so. My comment is aimed at addressing a larger point -- specifically, the notion that the position "color blind" is one that can be held only by the "privileged."

My point is simply that "privilege" is a relative concept and that viewing it solely through the lens of race (as it applies to African Americans) is flawed and is the result of a particular political history in the U.S. Why not view the concept through a host of other lenses (e.g., various religions, races other than African American, etc., various economically underprivileged groups, etc.). Why prefer the category "African American Authors" to others as a focus for our attention? That is the point of the examples. Nothing more.

10:32 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hi Everyone, Thanks for all the comments. I'll be responding when I can, but right now I have ahead of me a day of bureaucratic misery - the "New Faculty Orientation" at a state University. Keep posting, though, and I'll be back to chat more soon.


10:49 AM  
Blogger Strength/Courage/Wisdom said...

Excellent points.

I once thought having an African American section in the bookstore was a good idea, but I've changed my mind now that I see what's offered there, which is an abundance of street lit. Not that there's anything wrong with that genre, but it seems as if the bookstore is sending a message that type of book is the only one we'll read.

Then I have to mosey on over to the literature section to get authors like Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith, Alice Walker, etc. It's frustrating.

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always known something wasn't completely kosher about the whole "colorblind" thing, and you just put into words the frustration I've been feeling whenever I hear people rhapsodize about and appropriate MLK, by pushing colorblindedness

11:54 AM  
Blogger SQT said...

Hi, I'm here via Pat's Fantasy Hotlist.

Great post. This is very interesting to me because I tend to read by genre and the author's race or gender doesn't necessarily factor in but it can make a big difference nonetheless.

For example: I picked up a L.A. Banks book because she was in the fantasy/sci-fi section though she is also a well known black author. And I have to say, I really did notice a difference in tone to the book because of her racial perspective. That was interesting to me because I had never thought about reading/writing in that context.

I'm used to the male/female divide, especially with the "chick lit" phenomenon but I am now starting to realize what a difference race makes. I was just contacted today by a Caribbean author to review his books on my site and I have to say I'm pretty interested to see how his background influences the story.

And you're absolutely right that Amazon promotes books in pretty tight genre packages. I don't read sci-fi/fantasy exclusively and I would love to have Amazon tell me when my favorite authors write books in other genres, but they never do.

12:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi! Surfed over here via the Angry Black Woman-- great post. I'm a female sci-fi/fantasy fan who's long been frustrated with the whiteness of the genre, so I'm definitely planning to check out your books!

What do you think of the way Stephen Colbert gives the 'I don't see color' line the reductio ad absurbum treament?

4:33 PM  
Blogger Randy Johnson said...

I'm white and I work at trying to be colorblind. But I'm not perfect and I catch myself thinking thoughts I ought to be shamed of. I'll stop and think, "That was stupid!" I've owned and read Delaney, Butler, Barnes, Moseley, and Ellison for as long as they've been publishing and I've been able to buy my own books. But as I said, I.m not perfect and probably never will be. I can never know what it's like to be a "person of color", except for what I read. And I acknowledge that's not the same thing.

5:34 PM  
Blogger Corby Kennard said...

While I respectfully disagree with parts of your interview with Scalzi (namely, the white writers part), I agree with you on this post. I do think it is a shame that non-white authors get a host of grief when it comes to selling and positioning their creative works.

I am never sure about the race, and a few cases the gender, of the authors I read, unless I become somehow enamored of them, i.e. read more than one book or met them and they were very cool. I read Delaney without knowing he was black. I only found out recently, and it wasn't so much a shock as, "That's pretty cool that he was able to be successful in this field."

I don't think I'm colorblind - I feel color, but more importantly culture - is what enriches our lives, and describes us to each other. I love having black and Hispanic friends, and gay friends, etc, because I learn something new every time I talk to them. Without color, this would be a dull, gray sphere.

That said, I really think that there should be no color-specific author section of any bookstore. A black studies section, certainly, just like a woman's studies, or gay studies, but not a gay author, etc. I don't feel race is any determination of the ability to tell a story, so it should be no determination on where to place the story. It almost feels as if they are saying "Here's black writers. For the REAL writers, go over to the xyz section." and I think that's awful.

6:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have never worked in a book store so I can't say this for sure but I think the intent of the African American section is to lift up authors of color, not separate them away from other writers. Someone mentioned that a lot of people go into bookstores with no idea of what they want to read or buy; it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack. The sections in a book stores are there to make those haystacks smaller and thus easier to find that needle (great book).
If you feel that having this type of section really does hurt the sales of the authors whose books are presented there then you should do something about it. I’m sure that you and any other author that feels the same way could start a dialogue with the different retailers to find out their reasoning for creating this section and let them know your feelings about it.

I would also respectfully disagree with you about knowing the race of the author. Since most books are sold in the paperback form and paperbacks usually don’t have a picture of the author most people aren’t going to know the race of the author. I just don’t see someone picking up a paperback from the “Wheel of Time” series, reading the blurbs, getting interested in the plot and then seeing the name Robert Jordan thinking “Jordan, huh. The only Jordan I’ve heard of is Michael Jordan so Robert Jordan is probably black too. No thanks, I’ll find something else”.

I would also respectfully disagree with you on the point of and other online book sellers manipulating the results in the ‘Customers who bought this item also bought’ section. I can see the point you’re trying to make but just try out your theory on with George R.R. Martin. Mr. Martin has published fiction, science fiction as well as his fantasy works. The previously mentioned section on Amazon for “A Feast for Crows” shows the works of Robert Jordan, Robin Hobb and the latest Harry Potter. Don’t you think that Amazon would manipulate the results of this field, if they did such things, to show Mr. Martin’s other works since his fans still have a long wait ahead of them for the next installment of his fantasy series? “Fevre Dream” is a vampire story set in 1857 and would probably be an easy sell for a Martin fan in need of a fix.

The last point I’ll make from my soap box is this, even though some fans may tell you that they’ve read your books from the different genres you’ve written in don’t count on that being a large number. GRRM is my favorite author in any genre and I haven’t read “Fevre Dream” or any of his non-ASOIAF books. I’d wager that less than twenty percent of his hard core fans have either from the GRRM message boards that I frequent.

I know that I can never walk in your shows but I have had some similar experiences. I’ve lived in another country where I was allowed in certain restaurants, clubs or social events because of my skin color. I’ve had relationships and not had relationships with people in this country for the same reason. It’s not fun but I can’t let that be the only lens that I see my experience there through. I know that there are still ignorant people out there but I hope that you realize that they shouldn’t be the lens that you see your career through.

7:10 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hi, I'm back from a day of signing forms and listening to lectures and being shuffled from place to place, all the while wearing a name tag and making small talk with strangers. I'm tired, and I have to do it all again tomorrow. Oh well, I'll first take a few moments and respond to some of these generous posts…

Ron, Thanks for you comments. I really do think acknowledging that you'll never understand this race stuff completely is wisdom itself. In return, I offer that I don't have the whole thing worked out myself. Never will. I'll hold things inside my skin and see others in ways that may not always be accurate either. I do think, though, that acknowledging that and then still trying be open to new ideas is the best we can do. Thanks for doing it.

Jebus, awesome response. I believe you can feel guilt-free about figuring 99% of folks you've read have been white so long as you acknowledge it and question it a bit. Hopefully, doing that will push you to seek out different voices, just as you welcome them in films. Excellent. All too often, though, I find people respond defensively (and then aggressively) when they find themselves being questioned. I love it that instead you’re turning a few of those questions inward. Again, that's wisdom.

Constance, I hear you. I am going to start recommending books more. There's plenty of good stuff out there, and my blog should be about more than just self-endorsement. When I do recommend books by people of color they won't always be sci-fi or fantasy. (Probably because I'm a picky reader and there's not exactly a ton of diverse voices in those genres. We'll work on that.) That points to another balance that I'd like to maintain - that I was a "literary" writer and continue to be an academic. I just increasingly include good genre writing in what I define as literature. But that's a different topic.

Hey, I also love it that you can say, "I have my favorite black poets..." and then go on to name them. That's awesome. To me that means you've read and know them as poets, while also acknowledging that their blackness is part of what enriches their writing - part of what you remember.

Note to folks - those posts that were deleted were deleted by the people that wrote them, probably as they decided to edit what they'd written. I haven't deleted anything in these comments.

Paul, I think you've assumed a lot of things that I've never said. For one, nothing I said sought to elevate one group's importance above others. When did I say that? What I did do was talk about an area that I work in and a situation that directly influences my life. So, "Why prefer the category "African American Authors" to others as a focus for our attention?" Only because this is my blog and I'm an African American and I was writing from my perspective. It seems to me that quite a few people are interested in talking about this. That's all. This is one blog. One writer talking to interested people. I should be able to get away with one post that includes a mention of the African American section without being faulted for not talking about Orthodox Jews, avowed Atheists, Pagans, Native Americans, economically underprivileged white women, Asians, and Albanians. I'm not dismissing them by taking a moment to talk about myself and the group I'm part of. (One of the groups, at least.)

Tia, You're kind. Thank you. I'll look forward to your post - I always check in on your sight anyway.

Greg, sincerity AND tact?... Thanks. That's what I'm after. It's genuine, I promise.

SCW, glad to have you here. I'd note, though, that I've been in Borders where Morrison, Walker, etc were still in the AFAM section - not in general literature. I think that might vary a bit from store to store or region to region. Zadie Smith, on the other hand, is British and read predominantly by white readers. That's what assures she'll be in the center of the store. (She also takes a fine author photograph.)

Lloyd, Glad it makes sense to you and speaks to some things you were already uneasy with. It can be hard to sometimes put these things into words. I found the process of trying to ruminate on this in writing helped clarify some things for me as well.

Sqt, Hey. I think the fact that you read genre-based is quite relevant to all this, and potentially makes a variation of "color blind" reading pretty reasonable. Since I've switched to novels that enter popular genres and deal with subjects removed from African-American issues my readership has grown. My first two novels were critical successes. (You can check the reviews if you're interested.) They won awards and had full-paged raves in the NYT and Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle and on NPR, etc. They were NY Times Notable books. BUT they were identifiably about black American issues - and their sales reflected that. Overseas, I only got one foreign sale for these - the Portuguese version of WALK THROUGH DARKNESS.

Enter PRIDE OF CARTHAGE. Once I offered that I was writing about world, ancient and Mediterranean history the level of interest changed. For example, my British publisher acquired the book before I'd written a word of it. Why? The topic, sure, but moreover they bought it because they'd read my earlier books and knew I was a good writer. They put down an advance equal to a modest yearly salary before I'd written one word of it - based only on a proposal. That's lovely flattering, sure. The unfortunate side of it is that the books that made them so sure they wanted PRIDE were books that they wouldn't publish because they didn't have the faith that their predominantly white audience would buy them. They couldn't use the "black" novels, even though they knew they were good. (John, I'd ask you to consider that when pondering whether these things are issues in the UK.)

So, coming back, I love it that the fact that I wrote in the ancient world and now in a fantasy world brought writers to my work that wouldn't have known I existed before. If, if... any of my newfound readers picked up GABRIEL'S STORY or WALK THROUGH DARKNESS they'd find the same writer of PRIDE OF CARTHAGE and ACACIA. They'd just find me telling a different story. I hope that some of them do, because I am just as proud of those books as I am of later works. AND there will come a time when I'll again mine African-American history for future novels. I hope that when I do some of my new readers come with me. Will you? The publishing world would say No. But I'm still hoping...

Also, Sqt, thanks for acknowledging that LA Banks actually did feel different - was different - because the material was informed by race. You may have picked it up color blind, but you saw and felt the color once you did. To me that proves that it does matter, and hopefully can matter in good ways.

Sarah, I haven't seen that Colbert bit. I've enjoyed him before, but we don't - by choice - have tv reception. We're a dvd family. If the piece is easily viewed via the web, though, let me know. I'll check it out.

Randy, great that those authors have a place in your life.

Paranoyd, I couldn't ask for better than respectful disagreement. Nothing wrong with that. I think it can lead to respectful - and more enlightened - agreement. Let's work on it.

Kevin, welcome. I wish I could have an influence on shelving policy in chain stores! I don't. And I assure you that writers have complained about it for some time. I suppose I could start a campaign to see things changed, but I'd rather use that time to write more books. Such a campaign could be a nice effort, but it would only change things if the stores perceived it would be profitable to do so. And consider here that profit is a complicated thing. I do believe that literary titles shelved in the AFAM section do suffer in terms of exposure and sales. That doesn't mean that the STORES loose sales, though - not when they can use prominent placements for JK Rowling, Stephen King, Anne Coulter and Dan Brown, etc…

As to your Martin point... I don't see that any of the examples you make undermine what I said. I didn't say that Amazon handpicks each title specifically. I said they likely work with a certain amount of categorization, especially of popular titles. By that logic and arithmetic it makes much more sense to point Martin readers toward Jordan, Rowling and Robin Hobb. Amazon doesn't have any stake in selling another Martin book. They just have a stake in selling as many other books as possible – regardless of who wrote them. You yourself said you haven't read FEVRE DREAM. Might I ask if you've read Hobb or Jordan? If so you're like many others, and it's quite reasonable that Amazon would want to turn readers on to other successful authors and to series that could lead toward multiple sales - instead of pushing a book by the same author that hasn't proven to have the same sales record.

But, I don't want to go too far with this line of debate. I don't claim any insider knowledge on how Amazon arranges things. All I do claim is enough experience to know that no company as successful as Amazon would neglect to use their resources to increase their profits (not necessarily an individual author's profits). Consider this hypothetical...

Author A has a popular book. People that bought 2,000 copies of A's book also bought 1,000 copies of B's book. B's book sold a total of 15,000.

People that bought A's book also bought 750 copies of C's book. C is a very popular author, though. The book they shared in common sold 50,000 and is the first in a series that has sales of 150,000.

Which book would an automated bookseller choose to highlight? Why direct people to a book that didn't sell that well if you can use that space to direct readers to a more popular book that opens them to a new series? It's pretty smart. I think the folks at Amazon are pretty smart. It wouldn't make sense for them not to include such considerations in their organization mechanisms.

But, Kevin, I welcome having a dialog with you, and I respect that experiences that you've had here and abroad. It's great that they've informed your worldview - even if some of the realizations weren't always positive.

As for hoping that I know ignorant people shouldn't be the ones that define how I see my career I couldn't agree more! And I don't. I also don't choose to entirely ignore the complete reality, but I'm very happy that many people (there could always be more) here in the States are reading my books. I'm happy that people read them in German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and in throughout the British Commonwealth, too. (More to come.) There are a great many good people in the world. I'm glad I'm reaching them - and talks like this are also about finding ways to hold out hands to others.

By the way, Kevin, have you read any of my books? They're good, and they're written for YOU as much as for anybody else.

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read every one of Jordan's books in the "Wheel of Time" series and have a Hobb book, yet unread, on my shelf so the Amazon suggestion folks hit the nail on the head.

I would like you to clarify one thing, if you would. I can’t quite figure out your statement “That's the opposite of being free from segregation” when you’re discussing Amazon’s methods of presenting other books the buyer may be interested in. I would really appreciate understanding what you mean and where you’re coming from with that statement.

I’m sure you’ve already thought about this but I’ll offer my opinion up anyway concerning the limited distribution of “Gabriel’s Story” and “Walk Through Darkness”. You set your first two books in and around the darkest part of American history. Before we invaded Iraq, most Americans could look at themselves in the mirror and say “Sure we have flaws but when push comes to shove we usually do the right thing”. During the time of “Gabriel’s Story” and “Walk Through Darkness” we have to look at ourselves and see all of pain that was inflicted upon our fellow Americans and know that we’re really not as righteous as we would have ourselves and others believe. You’re asking a lot of your readers when you push them into looking inward.

No, I have not read one of your books yet. I just ‘discovered’ you via Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist and other fantasy review sites that have given “Acacia” high marks. “Acacia” was already sitting at the top of my books to buy list before reading your blog; not because I’m trying to show you how open minded I am but because I read the excerpt from chapter one and it rocks.

I respect the opinions that you’ve presented today and feel that I’ve been enriched by the exchange. I hope that you gain as much from all the people that have replied to your posting, whether they agree with your point of view or not.

All the best!

1:12 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hey Kevin,

Thanks for that response. This is just the briefest of notes to say I've received it, but I'm going to drop right now. I'll be out tomorrow being miserable at the "New Faculty" stuff. (I'm not a fan of such things.) But I'll get back to you when I can.



2:14 AM  
Blogger Paul S. Kemp said...

"Paul, I think you've assumed a lot of things that I've never said. For one, nothing I said sought to elevate one group's importance above others. When did I say that?"


Fair enough. I was moving to a larger issue that you did not directly raise or implicate. Apologies for assuming too much of your views.


9:08 AM  
Blogger Graeme Flory said...

Great post David, there's a lot of food for thought there and will certainly add a new element to my reading of 'Acacia' (next on the list!)

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always parsed the phrase "color blind" in the negative. I know it's supposed to connote a lack of racism, but taken on its face, it means that the victim of color-blindness is missing out on something. Whenever I hear it I replace it with "I'm unable to discern differences in people so I'm forced to assume everyone is like me."

9:49 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


I appreciate your comments, and you bet I'm learning from the exchanges too. It's helping me to clarify what I think, and also adding to my understanding of what other people think - disagreements included.

I agree completely that the subject matter of those early books could seem a bit off-putting, heavy and uncomfortable for mainstream readers. That does tie-in to this whole issue of reading or not reading diversely - in this case focused specifically on African-Americans. If I am going to choose to write a story about African Americans set in the past I'm invariably going to have to deal with the unpleasant realities of race. It's simply always a part of it. Even when black stories set in the past aren't primarily about race - say THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD or THE COLOR PURPLE - our racial problems are still part of the fabric of telling the story.And even if it wasn't always a part of it, many readers will assume that it's a part of it anyway.

So, my complaint - if I have one - is that the result of your analysis of what might put people off about WALK THROUGH DARKNESS - knowing that it deals with slavery - essentially means I can't write for a wide audience while still writing about my history. That history HAS to include the very things you point out are off putting. If I can't get past that with readers, my only choice (other than being bitter) is to turn from those stories and find other ones that interest me. Again, this is mostly intended to be an observation.

The thing about Amazon not be free from segregation was specifically in answer to John. He felt he was fairly free from the categorization issue because he was online more than in a store. I was just making the point that online stores construct intricate pathways to funnel readers toward titles. All they have to go on is what you've bought before, or what you're looking at. It makes more sense for them to funnel you toward things that are just like what you've already bought. That invariably leads to continuing to push you toward the same sort of thing, instead of different stuff that you might like also.

Here's an example... I've just opened Amazon and went to the page for Toni Morrison's SONG OF SOLOMON. In the Customers Who Bought This Also Bought category are these titles...

Blueest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Tar Baby, by Toni Morrison
Paradise, by Toni Morrison
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
The Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison

Okay, so initially that looks like it makes sense. Hey, people that like Toni buy other Toni books. And Ralph Ellison, like Toni, is one of the most revered black literary authors. Makes sense, yes?

BUT Amazon's own mechanism seem to suggest that's not a complete picture. Lower down, in the What Did Customers Actually Buy After Viewing Items Like This? category are these titles...

Song of Solomon, by Morrison (this is the book page we're on)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J. K. Rowling
A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides

That's a complete different list! At the top I'm told that people that buy Toni Morrison either by other Toni Morrison or they buy other black authors. A little further down the actual math says that people the buy books like Toni Morrison's actually by British Fantasy, Afghani social novels, post-apocalyptic stories and a literary novel about a Greek-American hermaphrodite. NONE of these titles are by Morrison or other black authors, but at the top the page we'd been directed first to other black authors.

Personally, this example is encouraging. I think it's great that Morrison clearly appeals to a certain type of literary (and Potter) reader that's willing to cross all sorts of boundaries. That's wonderful, but in this case that seems to have happened against the machinery of the site that wanted to direct readers of one black author exclusively to other black authors. That seems to back up my belief that Amazon does have Toni Morrison categorized. In a way, she's in the African American section. The online site just doesn't carry that banner at the top of book stack.

Somewhere in there is the point that line was making.

Paul, Thanks for that. Hey, these issues do snowball one into another pretty easily...

Graeme, Interesting to imagine you reading ACACIA after all this talk. I do think my world experiences have shaped me into the person that would write ACACIA, and I do think it's different than much of what's in the genre - although sharing enough traits that it belongs in the genre. There are, of course, no African Americans in the book. (It's a different world, no America..) There's no Jim Crow. No Atlantic Slave trade. No Constitution wherein the worth of slave was determined by a fraction compared to his/her master...

So what is there? A world as diverse as ours, but one in which the peculiar history of earth and the paradigms that we live with because of it aren't part of the picture. That's a whole nother topic, really.

JD, put simply, I do think that the "color blind" are often "missing out on something", as you put it.

5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well David, I will now see Borders and Amazon in a different light. Of course I don't expect the stores in the UK to have a black authors section, when I am in the US though, I will make a point of asking (whilst in a Borders) why, there is a black authors section and ALL the books are a mix between fiction/non-fiction/history/etc... I WONDER WHAT REPLY I WILL GET!!!

Maybe someone in these comments or is reading this can do this before me, and post what response they get???

4:35 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Carl, well, I've spoken with Borders managers about it a lot. They do have some divisions. Like Nonfiction wouldn't be mixed with Fiction. But both potentially have a separate space in the store than other Nonfiction and Fiction.

When I've asked Borders managers about it - and expressed that I didn't like the black fiction section in particular - they've all said they only do it that way because they've been told black customers like it that way. The argument is that black readers don't want their books mixed in with other books. They want them where they know they can find them.

I'm absolutely sure that some people feel this way, but I'd ask them to sacrifice that ease for a greater good.

Also, though, I've never been that convinced by this argument. I'm a black person, and I know a lot of black people. I don't know anybody that thinks their reading choices are so limited that they'll only shop for books in one corner of the store.

Some may roll their eyes, but I do think there's something of an underlyingly racist attitude about assuming that black readers only want books by black authors AND that they'll only find them if they are sectioned off for them. Are we too lazy to walk the aisle like other readers? (Hypothetical question only. The answer is too obvious to really need answering.)

8:57 PM  
Blogger texasboyblue said...

Just an aside -

Before reading and most confusedly responding to this post (an my own plug intended), I had never heard of Mr. Durham or his books. It is an oversight which I am most anxiuos to remediate. In fact, I am currently waiting for Acacia to arrive. I will be posting my honest opinion of it after I read it, but I am rather excited to be reading it.

Three things I would add to the comments already made-

1) As an ignorant member of the race from the Caucuses, I believe that the term "color-blind" is a knee-jerk reaction to the fear of being thought racist. By that I mean that its easier not to think about and respond in a neutral, acceptable way than think through. Hopefully, most of us grow out of it.

2) Race is irrelevant to the story. Let me say that again and broaden it somewhat: Race, age, gender, nationality and.or sexual prefereance are irrelevant to the story. The are irremovable from the story teller and must, therefore, flavor the writing. But great stories aren't great racially, they are great humanly. Good writers use that which is human to nurture an image in the minds of the readers and, while race can be a vehicle used to nurtire those images, it cannot be all the story. If the book is only understandable from a certain perspective, then it can only nurture those images in persons that completely understand that perspective. *snore* Good writers reach across these lines to express that which is human, regardless of race, gender, etc. The author must use his experiences and imagination to find the ways to engender these images, but he must rely on the humanity of the reader to have these images come alive in the minds on those readers. Otherwise, we have a textbook, not a story.

3)Having said all that, I wish to address a seperate issue. Racism exists, Its quite an institution in America (and being American, I must limit myself to that which I know), Next time you read a newspaper and the candidate for the State representative is described as "a Black Republican", see if they describe his opponent as "a White Democrat". My bet is they don't and most people never even think about that being racist. Why is race relative to either candidate's ability to adequately serve their constituency? Answer: Its not, but it sells newspapers. Isn't that sad? And so limiting. We become so busy seeing race that we lose sight of the man or woman. We chance the ability to get the best person for the job because race is a factor.

Let me further explain that I see race. An Asian IS Asian. And that brings a certain set of cultural divergance from me with it. But, in America, cultural differences have been the name of the game since long before anybody who is reading this had a grandparent who had reached the stage of eye-twinkling in THEIR parents eyes. You think that by now, we'd at least have given it some honest thought and social evaluation.

Maybe someday. I have faith in the human animal. We can get past the cultural differences that, while important in understanding where someone comes from, have little or nothing to do with where they are going. Diversity is wonderful, exciting and unavoidable. But individually is how I make my friends. If I limit that list by using some of the imaginary lines I named earlier, just imagine what I have lost. The opportunity cost is too high for me. I need all the friends I can get.

Lastly, I am delighted to find out that Mr. Durham is teaching! After our exchaged comments, I can imagine no one better. I hope he finds it rewarding in terms of satisfaction and finance. Good Luck!

1:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant post. This should be linked all over the web. You do a great job of explaining why the "color blind" thinking is so dismissive.

2:54 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

most felonious vocalist,

Thank you. It did get some linky action for a while there. About a week, I figure, and then people moved on to other things... So it goes. Glad to have started a few discussions, though.

3:40 PM  
Blogger alifarr said...

When an author's race comes through his or her writing with a sort of "poor persecuted me, can't you tell I'm black" feeling, yes, I can usually tell the author is black.

But when I'm reading good fiction, I generally have no clue about the race of the author. For years, I had no idea Andre Norton was female and in the same vein, no idea that Octavia Butler was black. They just wrote good stories!

When I see a person of color, I am aware that despite efforts to change I still carry some of my parent's prejudices hardwired into my psyche and that I have to make a conscious effort to not let some of those slide into my interactions.

But, on the other hand, my other grandpa thought all Micks were lazy bas***** and all Wogs would cheat you given half a chance. I don't have ANY of those prejudices - common just a generation ago, in fact I couldn't tell you who belonged to those racial profiles unless they spoke with an Irish or Italian accent. In either case, I'd probably fall in love with the accent and the person on the spot, which would have caused grandpa to disown me if he were still alive!

Further, my kids have the same attitude toward anyone with darker skin than Northern European anything. They have trouble understanding why anyone would have segregated a school because of skin color.

The bookstore seems to be an even easier place to lose any predjudice we might harbor. Even easier with Kindles - the book opens to chapter one and I don't see book jackets or bios or pictures. If the author tells a good story, I will kepp reading the author.

Off to search David Anthony Durham - I have a new author and new books to read!

11:44 PM  
Blogger Me said...

I'm a few years late but better late than never... thanks for a very interesting read. I used to feel bad for not being colour blind. I read Margie Orford's Blood Rose not that long ago and speculated the whole time about what colour skin Clare Hart has. Only after reading that the author actually wants to keep you wondering, I stopped feeling kinda guilty about it. And btw I wouldn't have read Margie Orford or any African authors without a certain lit course at uni ;) so thank god for university, even though it will probably not lead to employment in my case...

7:04 AM  
Blogger Mziwmi said...

I'm not 100% sure of the meaning of 'colorblind' but I insist that my race be defined as Human and nothing else. Other people may use whatever identifiers they like, I'm cool with that. The system of racial classification, which most people see as some kind of natural law, I can work with, but I absolutely fail to understand the logic behind it. It seems to be a sociopolitical construct designed to chart how alien a given person is to the cultural standard, using a mixed metric of skin color, native language and ethnic origin, while consistently refusing to define those units. For instance, while 'black' and 'white' are considered natural classes, nowhere is there to be found a display showing the various existing human skin colorations and the correct term for each.In fact, the language itself lacks terms for those shades, despite have tens of thousands of other color terms. It seems that when a 'black' person has a skin tone lighter than some 'white' person, the term 'black' shifts to mean an ethnicity. In other cases, persons with any skin tone may be assigned to the 'Hispanic' or 'Latino' race based on their native language. This leaves persons from countries in 'Latin America' who speak English, Portuguese or other languages in racial limbo - or perhaps not, as the category was clearly added to exclude persons from the Americas outside of the USA and Canada from being 'white'. In some situations, the word 'Caucasian' is used, but rather than referring to natives of the Caucus Mountains, it appears to be a synonym for 'white' based on a theory discredited a century ago. These are just the tip of the iceberg - race theory seems to be deliberately confounded and irrational.

So, yeah, I'll call you by whatever term you like. You can be African-American, or Nihonjin Nisei, or Chicano or whatnot. Feel free to associate those terms with various cultural artifacts produced by like termed people - Gay Cinema, Women's Lit, Jewish Deli, it's all good....until you try to put those labels on me. Respect is a two way process, and you just have to get used to the idea that in addition to Asian, African-American, White and Hispanic, some people are Human.

10:26 PM  
Blogger Luísa L. Mota said...

Very interesting!I didn't know about the black american section... So many unfair dificulties for black writers!

Have you ever read Machado de Assis? He was the greatest brazilian writer, and was half black/white. Just a suggestion...
: )

8:42 PM  
Blogger Luísa L. Mota said...

Very interesting!I didn't know about the black american section... So many unfair dificulties for black writers!

Have you ever read Machado de Assis? He was the greatest brazilian writer, and was half black/white. Just a suggestion...
: )

8:44 PM  
Blogger Luísa L. Mota said...

Very interesting!I didn't know about the black american section... So many unfair dificulties for black writers!

Have you ever read Machado de Assis? He was the greatest brazilian writer, and was half black/white. Just a suggestion...
: )

8:44 PM  

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